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A B C D E F G H I J K LM N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0-9
(A-Z listing includes diseases, conditions, tests and procedures)

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases (COPD)

What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a serious lung disease that over time makes it hard to breathe. You may also have heard COPD called other names, like emphysema or chronic bronchitis. In people who have COPD, the airways (tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs) are partially blocked, which makes it hard to get air in and out.


Symptoms of COPD include:

  • Constant coughing, sometimes called smoker's cough

  • Shortness of breath while doing activities

  • Excess sputum production

  • Feeling like you can't breathe

  • Wheezing

When COPD is severe, shortness of breath and other symptoms can get in the way of doing even the most basic tasks, such as doing light housework, taking a walk, even bathing and getting dressed. COPD develops slowly, and can worsen over time, so be sure to report any symptoms you might have to your doctor as soon as possible, no matter how mild they may seem.


A test called spirometry can detect COPD before symptoms become severe. It is a simple, noninvasive breathing test that measures the amount of air a person can blow out of the lungs (volume) and how fast he or she can blow it out (flow). The spirometry reading can help your doctor determine the best course of treatment.


Once you have been diagnosed with COPD, there are many ways that you and your doctor can work together to manage the symptoms of the disease and improve your quality of life. Your doctor may suggest one or more of the following options:

  • Bronchodilators to relax the muscles around your airways, to help open them and make it easier to breathe

  • Inhaled steroids to prevent the airways from getting inflamed

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation to help you learn to exercise and manage your disease with physical activity and counseling

  • Physical activity training

  • Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, to help manage the effects of COPD

  • Oxygen therapy to help with shortness of breath (You might need oxygen all of the time or just some of the time; your doctor will work with you to learn which treatment will be most helpful.)

  • Surgery (In some severe cases, doctors may suggest lung surgery to improve symptoms.)

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